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Of All The Unknowns

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The thing about working in the Accident and Emergency department at one of London’s busiest hospitals is this: it sucks.

Well, Martin admits, that’s not exactly it. It doesn’t suck. It’s busy, and it’s stressful, and working three 12-hour shifts in a row is hardly his idea of a good time, but it’s rewarding and engaging and every time he helps someone it reminds him of why he chose to be here. Not here, in terms of A&E, but here, in terms of being a nurse, helping people get better and fixing them up and generally doing something good in the world. He’s a student nurse, admittedly, but he’s a nurse all the same. He chose to study nursing, and he chose to be here, and he’s determined to make the most of it.

And besides, it turns out that you meet some rather interesting people at A&E. Which isn’t to say that you don’t meet interesting people in other departments of hospitals, of course, but some of the things he’s seen at A&E are… well, to put it simply, he’s starting to see where the over-dramatic medical dramas that he’s secretly rather fond of get their inspiration from. For example, he’s barely three hours into his shift and he’s already helped a woman who gave herself a nasty bump on the head by tripping over her pet snake, a man who discovered a burgeoning allergy to ginger after eating half a pack of ginger biscuits, and he’s currently half way through pulling small, wriggling insect larvae out of a man’s shoulder with a pair of shiny steel tweezers.

“There was an infestation,” the man says out of nowhere. The man’s name, Martin knows, is Jonathan Sims, though he’d introduced himself as Jon when Martin had walked into the room alongside his mentor and first laid eyes on him. His voice is soft, quiet and a little bit rough, but Martin can still hear his words clearly in the little examination room. They’re also the first words that Jon has said since the senior nurse left, leaving Martin alone in the room with the wan, haggard looking man, and Martin very nearly jumps at the sound of his voice. It’s a good thing that he didn’t. He wouldn’t want to have to explain to his mentor how a patient ended up with a popped insect larvae gooping up the inside of their shoulder.

Martin blinks. “I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t have to.” The man - Jon - shifts a little, stifling a soft groan as the motion tugs on his shoulder. “I could- ah- I could see you looking.”

“…You weren’t looking at me. I’m standing by your side.” Not to mention that, despite his size, Martin has been told on more than one occasion that he’s surprisingly easy to miss. Even now, Jon’s not even looking at him - he’s just staring ahead, his eyes fixed somewhere on the opposite wall, but Martin can see the small smile that crosses his face, thin and sharp like the edge of a scalpel.

“Fine,” Jon says. “I knew that you were looking.”

“How did you know?”

Jon shrugs. The action makes his shirt, only half-on, shift and flutter a little. He’d been surprisingly calm when the senior nurse had asked him to unbutton it and slip it off the shoulder in question to allow them a better view of the marks dotting his shoulder and arm. Martin knows that some people can become… awkward, when asked to undress in a hospital setting, but Jon had seemed completely fine with it, nodding and complying with the sort of attitude that suggests to Martin that he’s done something like this before.

He still seems completely blasé now, not even glancing at Martin as Martin continues to work away at his unpleasant task. He moves his arm slightly, allowing Martin to more easily access it, and finally speaks up again.

“I just knew,” Jon says. “Well, maybe assumed would be a better word. Melanie certainly had enough questions about how this whole situation happened.

“Yeah?”

“Mm. I figured it would likely be a reasonable assumption that you’d have questions, too.”

Martin nods. “I mean, you’re not wrong there.” He peers a little closer at Jon’s arm. Beneath his dark skin, he thinks he can occasionally spot something pale and bulbous wriggling. “This is definitely one of the, um, one of the odder things I think I’ve seen here.”

He’s not really listening for Jon’s response, if he’s honest. He’s only been a student nurse for a few years but he’s already found that it’s generally a good idea to keep up this sort of bland, friendly chatter, if only to distract the patient from what’s going on, like how you’d ask them about their holiday as you give them a nasty injection. Martin wishes that this was an injection. He lifts another bulbous, fleshy larva from Jon’s arm, setting it down on the steel tray where it twitches once before falling still. Disgusting things. Still, the senior nurse had assured Martin in a not entirely convincing tone that the parasite wouldn’t be able to cross between them, and that all Martin had to do was remove as many as he could to prevent infection as they died naturally. Martin’s got gloves on anyway, because that just seems eminently sensible, but they don’t stop him from trying to recoil a little when he feels something under his hand shifting, and lifts it to see yet another squirming bug. Shockingly, his several years of studying nursing at university had completely failed to prepare him for this sort of situation.

Even more shockingly, his beloved medical dramas had failed him, too.

“You said these were in your forearm as well, yeah?” Martin asks, glancing up for a moment to look at Jon.

Jon nods, not seeming to care that Martin’s abandoned whatever topic of conversation Jon was on before. “Forearm, upper arm, shoulder, and I think there’s a few in my face, as well,” he replies, his voice almost unsettlingly calm. Martin straightens up, for a moment abandoning work on Jon’s shoulder to look at his face instead. In the stark hospital lighting he looks almost gaunt, his cheeks hollowed and his eyes sunken, but he doesn’t actually look bad. Far from it, in fact.

Jon’s face is… well, perhaps the best word to describe it, other than ‘haggard’, ‘bug-spotted’, and ‘Remus Lupin-ey if he somehow got even less sleep’, would be ‘sharp’. He just looks sharp, in a way that Martin can’t quite explain. Not sharp in a sleek, fancy, fashionable way, like one of those models you sometimes see in a really, really good-looking suit, but sharp in a more general sense. He looks intelligent. He looks clever. He looks like he could glance at Martin and simply know every thought that’s ever gone through his head, which is a terrifying concept at the best of times and is somehow only made worse by how absolutely calm Jon has been about everything that’s gone on so far. He looks completely collected, like this is just an entirely normal thing that he does sometimes. Maybe it is. Martin doesn’t know Jon’s life. He just knows that he can see a few small zit-like marks on one side of Jon’s face, curling up under his jaw to scatter across his cheek like stars. They look just like the marks Martin’s been poking at since Jon arrived. Somehow, they don’t detract from the rest of Jon’s face as much as they should.

Which, Martin reminds himself, doesn’t mean anything, because Jon does not look attractive. Definitely not.

“O-oh,” Martin says, in a slightly strangled tone. “I- right, yeah, I- I see them. They’re definitely there. In your face.” Mentally, Martin gives himself a quick shake. Professional, he reminds himself, for what he’s sure will not be the last time today. We are a professional. “Don’t worry, though. I’ll, um, I’ll get those ones out, too. You’ll be out of here in no time.”

“Thank you, ah…”

Martin watches Jon’s eyes narrow slightly as he peers at Martin’s nametag. Martin knows what’s written across it, the black letters bold on the yellow background (for, as was explained to him, the benefit of dyslexic patients). It reads, Martin, and then beneath his name, in slightly smaller letters as though ashamed of admitting it, Student Nurse.

“…Martin,” Jon continues after a pause. He looks up and, for the first time since he arrived, he meets Martin’s gaze. His eyes are a startling shade that Martin can’t quite put into words, blue and green and grey and brown all swirled together into something that should just be a flat, muddy mess, but somehow isn’t. It’s impossible to describe. Martin thinks that he would like to try, though. Maybe later, after work, when he’s back home in his lonely, dingy little London flat, he might put pen to paper and try his absolute hardest to describe the colour of Jon’s eyes so that others might know, if only in part, what they look like.

And then Jon looks away, and Martin hastily shakes himself. He shouldn’t- he’s not going to be thinking that sort of stuff about a patient. He’s encountered attractive patients on his previous hospital placements, and he’s sure that he’ll encounter many more in the future, and Jon definitely isn’t attractive. He’s not. He’s just got nice eyes. That’s it. It’s fine. This is fine.

Martin swallows. All of a sudden, the little room feels much, much warmer.

“So,” he says suddenly, desperate to break the growing awkward silence, “you said- you said there was an infestation?”

Jon clears his throat, quickly looking away. “I- yes,” he stammers.  “There was- yes. Obviously, I didn’t realise that there was an- that there were so many bugs in the storage room, or I wouldn’t have slept there.”

“Oh, yes. Obviously,” Martin echoes. He doesn’t know what else to say. He feels rather like he’s just speaking on autopilot. Annoyingly, he’s also very aware of the fact that his autopilot for speaking is, to put it in layman’s terms, completely shit. “You- I’m sure you’re very sensible. About- about being in beds. With insects. Um.”

“I, ah… Well, normally I’d be inclined to agree with you,” Jon says wryly, “but I don’t think I can quite get away with it so well when you’re, um…” He waves his free hand vaguely towards Martin, jostling the arm that Martin has just gone back to working on as he does so. Martin tuts without even thinking about it, reaching out and gently pushing Jon’s arm back down.

“Don’t move, I’m trying very hard not to pop these.”

“Sorry, sorry…”

“It’s alright, just… I’m trying to make this as painless for you as possible. You sure you don’t want local anaesthetic?”

“I’m sure,” Jon says. “Thank you very much for the offer, but… no. I’ll be fine as it is.”

“Okay… If you change your mind, though, let me know?”

“I will.”

That seems to be that. A slightly uncomfortable silence gathers around them as Martin continues to work, but it’s a silence that he’s accustomed to, and one that he knows how to handle. He’s a (student) nurse, after all. He knows how to put people at ease.

“You were telling me about how you, um, how you found these?” he prompts. Jon startles slightly, snapping his head away as Martin glances up as though he’d been caught staring.

“Oh!” he says. “Oh, yes, yes I- I was doing that. I was working late in storage and I- well, Melanie has warned me not to in the past, but I was a bit tired and I haven’t been sleeping well recently, so I thought I’d have a lie-down on the bed that’s been down there for a while.” Jon gives a wry smile. “And- ow- as you can see, that didn’t quite work out so well.”

“Sorry,” Martin murmurs quietly, dropping the next larvae down on the tray. He’s only half been paying attention to what Jon’s been saying, too focused on not popping the larvae like they’re particularly wriggly bubble wrap, but a few words manage to stick. “Melanie?”

“My co-worker. I would say ‘friend’, but I feel that’s somewhat debatable right now. She was- she was not best pleased to find me in this state.”

“What, with worms coming out of your arm?”

Jon actually snorts at that.

“Yes,” he says wryly. “Yes, exactly that.” He shifts a little, giving a soft gasp when the motion tugs at his arm, but beyond that he doesn’t react at all. It makes Martin wonder what other things have happened to Jon, if he can be this calm and collected sitting on an uncomfortable hospital examination table as a stranger pulls actual, living insects out of his own flesh and skin. From his position by Jon’s side, Martin can see a matching pair of scars arcing across Jon’s chest beneath his pectorals, but he knows enough to be quite confident in his feeling that those are good scars as opposed to bad ones. “She was- ah- she was the one who noticed first, actually.”

Martin pauses. “…Noticed what?”

“The bugs. That I had… this.” Jon lifts a hand, gesturing vaguely at his shoulder as Martin continues to stare. “She was heading into storage to collect a saw, I think, and she- well, she noticed that there was some blood on my shirt. We actually thought it was rust at first – it’s happened before – but then I scratched at it because my arm was feeling rather itchy, and it- I- I felt something move.”

No judging, Martin tells himself. No judging the man with worms in his arm. “I- okay. You didn’t realise up until then?”

Jon gives a small shrug, not quite meeting Martin’s eyes. “Not really. I tend to wake up feeling a bit sore if I sleep in the wrong position – I thought this was just that coupled with saw-dust-covered bedsheets.”

“And your… the face ones?”

What follows Martin’s words is a pause so sheepish it could be turned into a jumper.

“…Melanie noticed those, too,” Jon admits eventually. “And then she told me to go to the hospital. And then she- and then she escorted me here, actually, if you must know. She called a taxi – which was completely unnecessary, I could have handled the tube just fine – and while we were waiting for it to arrive she spotted the ones in my- in my hand, too. She got a bit, ah, shouty.”

For a long, long few seconds, the only sound in the room is the soft humming of the fans and equipment. Jon doesn’t meet Martin’s gaze, staring fixedly at something just over Martin’s left shoulder. It’s for the best, probably. Martin’s not entirely sure what he could possibly say in response to that.

After all, what sort of a man is Jonathan Sims if he doesn’t even notice worms coming out of his own hand?

A patient, the more nursing-oriented part of Martin’s mind reminds him sharply. He’s a patient, and he’s probably not thinking straight because of all the worms in his shoulder, and I’m sure he had his reasons for sleeping on that bed, and anyway, we’re not here to judge where he chooses to sleep, or why.

Can we judge him just a little bit? asks Martin’s less nursing-oriented brain, in a slightly louder voice. Just a tiny bit? Please? He has bugs in his arm!

He does, and we are going to take the bugs out of his arm, because we are a professional.

Martin doesn’t have an argument against that, even inside his own head. He very carefully doesn’t make any sort of judgemental sound as he plucks out some more bugs, keeping his gaze focused on Jon’s shoulder and arm. He’s not going to judge Jon, the poor man. He’s going to focus on the task at hand. And speaking of…

“Right,” Martin says, his voice just slightly too loud in the little room. “I think- I think that’s all the ones in your shoulder and upper arm gone, so I’ll- I’m going to get the ones in your forearm and then finish with your, um, your neck. And your face,” he adds. “Is that- is that alright?”

Jon shrugs. “Honestly, Martin, I’m not particularly bothered. As long as I end up bug-free I don’t think I’ll have much to complain about. You seem quite handy with those tweezers of yours.”

Martin nods. He’d felt rather handy with his tweezers, like all his lonely hours playing Operation as a child finally paid off. “Thank you,” he says, and then, before he can stop himself, he adds, “a corkscrew would be better, though.”

“…Pardon?”

Oh, Christ. One of these days, Martin is going to learn not to trust his speaking autopilot. Apparently, today is not that day.

He swallows down his shame as best he can, carefully placing the final bug down on the tray. “W-well,” he says, doing his very best to sound professional and knowledgeable and not like some part of his brain that binge-watched crime dramas when he was a teenager is currently at the wheel, “a corkscrew is- these worms, or whatever they are, seem to move pretty slowly, but they’re rather slippery. I keep thinking I’ve got one and then it moves away, or you shift slightly-”

“Sorry about that.”

“-it’s alright, just please do try to stay still. But, as I was saying… a corkscrew would be able to sort of… chase after them, you know? Or catch them and sort of- sort of scoop them out. On the- on the twisty bits. Of the corkscrew. The screw bit.”

There’s a long, long pause.

Very, very slowly, Jon raises a single eyebrow. It’s a very pointed eyebrow. Martin feels like it’s looking at him.

“Shut up,” Martin mutters, feeling himself starting to blush.

“I didn’t say anything-”

“I know, I know, but I… it made sense in my head, alright?”

“No, no, I understand,” Jon says unexpectedly. “It- it does make a certain sort of sense, the idea of- well, of jamming a corkscrew into my arm to try and get these little bastards out, but I’m going to- I’m assuming that you don’t normally keep corkscrews on hand in A&E.”

Martin shakes his head. “Not sterile ones,” he replies. “And it might- well, it might need to be a specialised corkscrew. It was- I- it- I was just thinking of hypotheticals, alright?”

“They were very interesting hypotheticals. If you want to- I mean, if you want to keep talking them then you’re welcome to do that. It’s a, ah… it’s quite a nice distraction, actually. From all… this.”

Christ. Martin’s face must be the colour of a stop light, he’s sure of it. It feels like it should be glowing, he’s blushing so hard. “Right,” he croaks. “Yeah. Yeah, sure, of course, I can- yeah. Hypotheticals.”

“Hypotheticals,” Jon echoes. He smiles at Martin. It’s a small thing, so faint that it’s barely there at all, but it makes Martin’s chest do something all the same. “Corkscrew hypotheticals. I’ve got to say, I’m not sure a corkscrew would work so well for the ones in my face, but you’re the medical expert here, so I’ll- I think I’ll listen to the words of my friends and leave the matter in your rather more capable hands.”

Martin ponders this for a moment. “A smaller corkscrew might work for your face,” he says eventually, “but I’m not sure how painless it would be, and the skin there is thinner so it would be easier to mess up, and you’ve got a really nice face as it is.”

Jon makes a small, choking sound. Just for a second Martin is worried that he is actually choking, possibly on a worm or bug or larvae that somehow got into his throat, but then he sees the colour of Jon’s cheeks, and abruptly realises what he just said.

Oh, he thinks to himself. Oh, Christ.

He doesn’t say anything else. He can’t say anything, not after that. His only hope is to keep working, not react in the slightest, and pray to whatever god might hear him that Jon will manage to explain away Martin calling him attractive to his face. Maybe, he hopes desperately, this sort of thing has happened to Jon before. Maybe he’s accustomed to this. He doesn’t- he isn’t hot, definitely not, but he has a certain sort of snarky, sarcastic charm that somehow makes him almost attractive.

Just for a second, Martin lets himself peek at Jon’s face.

Jon’s still blushing but it’s faded a little now, his cheeks a little less red and the bug-marks a little more apparent. Even with the bug-marks dotting his cheek and jaw, Martin feels that what he said still holds true. Jon does have a really nice face. Martin can’t even explain how – it’s just nice. All of Jon looks nice, somehow. No one should look good under the overly-bright hospital lighting, and they especially shouldn’t look good when they’ve got under-eye bags so large they might as well be suitcases, several days’ worth of scruffy stubble covering their jaw, and literal insects climbing around inside their shoulder and arm. And Jon doesn’t look good. He doesn’t. Martin is absolutely sure of that. He looks- he looks- he looks like he hasn’t slept in a week, frankly, and Martin is quite sure that he was only attracted to that sort of look when he was going through his embarrassingly long edgy phase. Jon doesn’t look good. He looks terrible.

But he still looks nice.

Martin makes himself look away. He’s not looking away because Jon is unfairly attractive in a grubby, lightly beaten-up sort of way. He’s not looking away because his heart keeps trying to do something silly whenever Jon catches his eye. He’s looking away because he is a professional, and because he has important professional things to do, and he may not be a fully graduated and qualified nurse yet but he is on placement, which means that he’s working, which means that he’s acting as a qualified nurse, and that’s basically the same thing. That’s the only reason why he’s looking away. That’s it. Nothing else.

Without speaking, he reaches out for Jon’s arm. He lifts it, about to start working on Jon’s forearm, and then realises something.

“Um,” he says. “Um, Jon, I’ll need you to- could you please take off your shirt? I need to reach your arm. Your fore-arm. Not the- not the bit that’s already out. Um. I’ve- I think I got all the bugs out of there. You just- you only need to take off this half of it though-”

There’s a soft rustle of fabric as Jon finishing shrugging out of his shirt and bundling it up in his lap, the last few words leaving Martin’s mouth.

“Oh,” Martin says weakly.

Jon pulls an apologetic face. “Sorry. I can-”

“No, no, it’s alright, if it- if it makes you more comfortable-”

“-it was just- in case you’d- there might be some on my other arm that I hadn’t noticed, I thought this might be-”

“-yes, yes, that’s an- that’s an excellent point, I’ll- yes. Good.”

“Sorry,” Jon says again.

Martin shakes his head, already reaching for Jon’s forearm and hand. “It’s alright,” he repeats. “Now, if you could hold still…?”

“Oh, yes, of- of course.”

Jon doesn’t look away as Martin starts working on his arm. He doesn’t look away as Martin, now starting to feel like he’s getting the hang of this, carefully adds a few more squirming larvae to the collection on the tray, occasionally glancing up at Jon to make sure that he’s not in too much pain. He’s working on the assumption that Jon has to be experiencing some pain, seeing how Martin is repeatedly jabbing him in the hand and forearm with a pair of very shiny tweezers, but he’s already coming to the conclusion that Jon is just one of those people who either refuses to show pain, or refuses to let themselves admit that sometimes things hurt more than they let on. Occasionally Jon gives a small wince or a quiet gasp, but beyond that he’s almost completely silent, merely observing Martin work. It should be off-putting. It should be weird.

Martin definitely isn’t enjoying it.


Art of Martin pulling insects out of Jon's arm by @heidzdraws on Twitter

Eventually, Jon’s arm looks clean. Martin takes a moment to check it over, taking hold of Jon’s hand to turn it back and forth before quickly checking over his other exposed arm, but he can’t see anything that he missed.

“Well, that’s that done!” he says brightly. “Just the ones in your face left to go now, I think. You just sit still and I’ll get this over and done with as quickly as I can.”

This time, Martin doesn’t let himself hesitate. Very, very carefully, he reaches out and takes Jon’s face in his hand. Even through the thin layer of the glove he can feel the warmth of his skin, can faintly feel the prickle of stubble pressing against his palm and the slow, steady pattern of Jon’s breath. It’s very nearly distracting, but Martin forces himself to stay focused.

“Alright,” he says softly. “Try not to move, okay?”

Jon gives a quiet hum of agreement but doesn’t say anything – he just keeps staring at Martin, his seemingly permanent frown leaving a little dimple right between his eyebrows. It’s kind of adorable, Martin thinks absently.

And then he quickly and deliberately ruins the mood of the moment by sticking a pair of tweezers directly into Jon’s face.

It’s sort of hard to be distracted from then on. The wriggling insect larvae in Jon’s face seem more reluctant to come free than the others, and Martin’s sure that he must have pulled some very unattractive faces as he hunted them down and tugged them all free. Jon, concerningly, doesn’t really react at all; he just sits still and motionless on the examination table, occasionally flinching but otherwise letting Martin tilt and angle his head as necessary without a hint of complaint. After not too long all the bugs that Martin can see have been removed, leaving Jon looking just a little worse for wear, and then all that’s left is to sterilise the injuries and set about applying dressings to them. That, at least, is something that Martin’s done plenty of times before. It’s almost soothing, the process of picking up the roll of bandages and taking Jon’s arm to start applying them. Martin wraps the bandage around the still raw-looking injuries, his fingers gentle on Jon’s arm, and carefully ties it off.

“Thank you, Martin,” Jon says, his voice softer and gentler than Martin would have expected. He looks up at Martin with a smile that almost banishes the tiredness from his face, and Martin feels his stomach do something funny.

“Oh,” he says weakly. “Oh, well, I was just- that’s what I’m here for, you know. Helping people- helping people out. Pulling worms out of shoulders. Whatever’s needed.”

Just for a moment, Jon’s smile falters. “Ah. Ah, yes, I- I know, I understand, this is your job, but- thank you anyway, Martin. If nothing else, you’ve successfully stopped my flatmate from murdering me.”

Martin smiles a little at that. “Well, we couldn’t be having that. Especially since it seems like there’s a few people who want to murder you, based on what you’ve told me.”

Hah. Well, yes, maybe.”

“Melanie, and… was there someone else you mentioned?”

“Not that I recall. Though, come to mention it, Georgie probably won’t be best pleased when I finally get home.”

“Georgie?” Martin asks.

“The aforementioned flatmate,” Jon clarifies, and Martin resolutely ignores the flood of quiet relief that sweeps over him at Jon’s words, because he is in no way interested in Jon in anything other than a professional, medical capacity. “She and Melanie tend to, ah, share opinions on my… let’s say ‘medical tendencies’.”

“Medical tendencies like ending up in A&E with worms in your arm?”

“Mm, more or less.”

“Does this happen to you a lot?”

“Well, I- not this exact situation, but… according to Melanie I end up in A&E rather more often than I apparently should.”

Martin hums, reaching down to pick up a plaster and carefully applying it to the last nasty-looking wound. “Accident-prone?”

“Just unlucky, I think. Georgie does keep saying that I need to find someone to look after me, though.”

Once again, Martin very pointedly ignores whatever nonsense his body and brain are doing at the implication that Jon might be single. He hums again, smoothing the plaster down flat. “Well, until you find that person, you can always come to A&E!” he says cheerfully. “Anyway, I think I’m all done here, so you, um, you just sit tight for a moment, and I’ll- I’m just going to pop out and, ah, confer with my mentor for a second, okay?”

“Okay,” Jon replies. “I’ll see you in a bit, Martin.” He catches Martin’s eye, giving him a small smile, and for a moment Martin finds himself completely caught off-guard. Jon’s still got one hand half-curled around the fabric of his shirt, his dark skin a beautiful contrast against the soft blue of the fabric, and he looks almost completely at ease. He looks content. He looks nice.

“Um,” Martin says. “I- I, um, yes, you’ll- yes, I’ll-” He waves a hand at the door, gives an awkward little stammer, and then leaves as swiftly as he professionally can, shutting the door behind him.

Just for a moment, Martin lets himself lean against the wall.

Christ,” he mutters to himself. All around him, the noise of the hospital blankets him like static. “Pull yourself together, Blackwood. This isn’t- this isn’t a tv show or anything.”

Things would be a lot easier if it was, he felt. If this was a tv show he wouldn’t have to worry about things like parasitic worm-bug-insects, or the small issue of medical ethics, or any of that. If this was a tv show, all he’d really have to worry about would be bad writing and the possibility of queer-baiting. He wouldn’t have to worry about getting crushes on patients all the goddamn time. He wouldn’t have to worry about not having any idea what to do in this sort of situation.

More importantly, if this was a tv show he’d be able to swan back into the examination room, say something charming and flirtatious to Jon that makes him swoon, and ask him to dinner while simultaneously delivering a spectacular medical pun that perfectly demonstrates his wit and wisdom. It would be fantastic. It would get five-star reviews.

It would not be something that Martin Blackwood, disaster gay extraordinaire, would ever be able to do. He knows that. He admits that.

But he doesn’t have to be happy about it.

Martin lets himself sulk for all of ten seconds. He knows this is silly. He knows this is pointless. He knows that Jon is just a hot patient who he’ll never see once he leaves the examination room, and he knows that nothing will ever come of this, and he knows that he’s felt similarly about other hot and attractive patients in the past and that he will feel similarly again in the future. He gets crushes easily - it’s just a fact of his life. He crushes on strangers the same way he crushes on fictional characters – quickly, easily, with a vague sort of ‘type’ that definitely does not include people like Jon, and with a complete understanding that nothing will ever come of it.

Nothing will ever come of this.

Nothing ever can.

“Alright,” Martin mutters to himself. “Alright.”

He takes a deep breath. The air tastes sterile on the back of his throat, like bleach and soap and cleaning supplies that just about fail to mask the underlying smell of hospital. It’s a comforting smell to Martin. It’s reassuring. Martin knows where he stands in a hospital.

“Alright,” he says to himself one more time, and then he scrubs the back of his forearm over his eyes and steps away from the wall.

Suitably calmed down and put together, Martin sets off in search of his mentor, and tries very hard not to think about the attractive stranger sitting in examination room 4-79.

---

Eventually, Martin returns to the examination room.

“I spoke with my mentor!” he says once he’s shut the door behind him, giving Jon as cheerful a smile as he can muster while Jon hastily tucks his phone back into the pocket of his jeans. “Got a second opinion on this, contacted a few people, all that.”

“Oh?”

“Mhmm, yeah. Basic conclusion is that you’re to try and go a bit easier on this arm for a little while, just while your body patches itself up. I’ve written you a prescription for some anti-inflammatories and antibiotics to keep everything under control, and if you feel anything wriggling around in there you’re to come right back, okay? We’re also going to try and organise a follow-up appointment for you with parasitology just to make sure we- just to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.”

“I’m sure you didn’t,” Jon says, and for some reason entirely unrelated to Jon’s words, Martin feels something warm kindle in his belly. “I’m sure you did a fine job, Martin.”

“Oh, I, ah… thank you.”

“Mm.” Jon gives a little hum, not quite meeting Martin’s gaze. There’s something akin to a smile drifting around his lips, but beneath the tiredness that hangs heavy over him Martin can’t be entirely sure if that’s what it is. It looks nice, though. He’s barely known Jon for more than a couple of hours and yet he already wants to say something to make him smile more.

He doesn’t, though. He doesn’t trust himself not to say something embarrassingly stupid, and avoids letting himself speak by silently passing Jon his printed prescription. Just for a moment, their fingers brush. Martin very carefully doesn’t react at all, because this isn’t Pride And Prejudice (2005).

“So,” he says, “that’s- you’re all good to go now. Do you have someone waiting for you to help you get home? Mel- Melanie, was it?”

“Oh, I’ll just be getting the tube. I think Melanie went home the moment I walked into this room,” Jon replies dryly, tucking the prescription away. “She hates being in A&E just as much as I do. More, possibly.” There’s as pause, and Martin watches the realisation dawning in Jon’s eyes. A slight flush covers his face as his eyes widen, his gaze darting from Martin to the door and then back to Martin again. “I- I mean, I don’t- I don’t hate being here, I don’t- you’ve been perfectly lovely, it’s been- this has been about as pleasant as I think it could have been, you’ve been an exceptional nurse, Martin, but I- it’s- I-”

“It’s still a hospital,” Martin finishes for him with a small smile. He ignores the little bubble of warmth that settles in his chest when Jon calls him ‘lovely’. “No one really likes being in hospital, I know. And most people really dislike A&E, too. You’re not alone there.”

“No?”

“Oh, definitely not. Some patients can get really angr- some patients aren’t as calm as you are. You’ve been- you’ve been lovely, too.”

It could be a trick of the light, but Martin swears he sees Jon flush at that. He stammers something mostly inaudible that Martin thinks is an attempt at ‘thank you’ and then falls silent, his fingers twisting in the fabric of his shirt where he’s holding it in his lap.

 “…Can I put this back on?” Jon asks after a pause, lifting his shirt slightly without looking at Martin.

“Oh!” Martin exclaims. “O-oh, yes, of course, you can- yes! Please!” God damn it. Right when he was sure that he’d got himself under control, Jon just has to say something to make Martin feel the tips of his ears flaring red all over again. Martin awkwardly shifts his gaze away as Jon, seemingly completely oblivious to Martin’s imminent combustion, starts shrugging back into his shirt.

“Anything else I need to keep an eye on?” he asks. “Anything else I need to do to, ah, prevent another visit?”

“Not really,” Martin says. He glances back at Jon, and definitely doesn’t feel any relief when he immediately notices that Jon’s chest is covered once again. “Just… look after yourself, I suppose. “Don’t- don’t go sleeping on anymore insect-infested beds now, alright?”

Jon gives a little smile, his long, elegant fingers moving easily over the buttons of his shirt as he does it back up. “I’ll certainly try my best not to. Still, I don’t think I can make any promises.”

“Really? You encounter a lot of insect-infested beds in your line of work?”

“I encounter my fair share.”

“Is that fair share ‘one’?”

Just for a moment, Jon’s smile widens. He looks up, meeting Martin’s gaze as he finishes doing up the final button, every trace of white bandage now hidden beneath the fabric of his shirt. “It might be,” he says, a hint of something faintly teasing in his voice. Martin can’t quite tell if he’s imagining it. He hopes that he isn’t. “But you never know. Something dreadful could happen in the next few days and every bed I encounter could be full of bugs.”

Martin snorts. “That seems rather unlikely to me.”

“It’s still possible.”

“Mm, maybe so. But even if it does happen, you’re not to go sleeping in any of them, okay? Not even really comfy-looking ones.”

“Are those your official doctor’s orders, Mr… Martin?”

“Nurse’s orders,” Martin corrects, “and yes. Yes, they are. No sleeping in insect-infested beds. Not even once.”

Once again, that now-familiar smirk returns to Jon’s lips. It is, in Martin’s mind, unfairly attractive. He’s pretty certain that in some circles the smirk could almost be considered cheating, seeing how much of a disadvantage it feels like it puts him at. Cheating at what he’s not exactly sure, but he doesn’t think that particularly matters. It’s cheating. It’s definitely cheating. Jon’s smirk is small, and knowing, and annoying, and for some reason that Martin definitely isn’t going to think about, it makes him feel just a little bit warm and distracted.

He also feels a little like Jon is doing it on purpose.

He hopes Jon is doing it on purpose.

“I’ll do my best to keep that in mind,” Jon says, and stands from the examination table. “Thank you once again, Martin. Have a good evening.”

Be cool, Martin begs himself desperately. Please, please, for the love of God be cool. Even if we’re never going to see him again, we might as well leave a good parting impression. Be cool. Say something funny. Be interesting.

“Nygk,” he says. “I- yep. And you- you too. Have one. A good evening.”

God. Martin’s well aware of the structural integrity of the hospital, but that doesn’t make him hope for it to suddenly collapse on top of him any less. If a nice hole into the ground suddenly opened up right beneath his feet, he doesn’t think he’d complain. In fact, he’d probably thank it for sparing him the embarrassment of facing definitely not-hot Jon after that absolute disaster of a response. If the universe would politely intervene in whatever way it deems fit, then Martin would be absolutely fine with that.

The universe, however, is a cruel bastard, and doesn’t do anything at all to alleviate Martin’s suffering. In fact, it does quite the opposite – it makes Jon’s smile soften slightly, becoming just a little gentler around the edges in a way that makes Martin’s heart skip a beat in a mildly medically-concerning sort of way.

“Goodbye, Martin,” Jon says, and then he crosses the room, open the door, and leaves.

Behind him, the door shuts with a soft click.

For a few moments, the examination room is completely silent. Beyond the walls of it, Martin can still hear the hustle and bustle of the rest of the hospital, can hear the sound of fans whirring and machines running and people moving from place to place and speaking in a blur of distant, indistinguishable noise, but the room itself is quiet. It’s peaceful, insofar as any room in a hospital can be peaceful.

It feels much, much too empty with Jon no longer in it.

No,” Martin says sharply. In the little room, his voice nearly echoes. “No, come on, pull it together, me. We’re a professional! We’re not- we’re not doing this again! We’re not! We’ve had enough crushes on patients!”

And on co-workers. And fellow students. And, on one memorable occasion, a teacher in sixth form, but in Martin’s defence he was only barely clawing his way free of puberty at that point in time, so he feels that he really can’t be blamed. Either way, he’s been through this before. He knows that it’s going to end in nothingness, and he similarly knows that the best thing to do is to push the cru- the feeling as far away from his brain as possible. It’s not a crush. Jon isn’t attractive. He’s- he’s- he’s got worms in his arm for starters, or he did, and he looked like he was living off of raw coffee grounds and not enough sleep, and Martin is not attracted to him. He’s not. Which means that he has no reason to think about him at all, ever. Jon is just another patient that Martin’s treated. That’s it.

Martin takes a deep breath, opens the examination room door, and steps out into the hospital corridor. He’s not going to distract himself. He’s not going to think about Jon any more. He’s going to do his job, and he’s going to help people, and then he’s going to go home and not think about Jonathan ‘Man With Worms In His Arm’ Sims in the slightest.

Besides, Martin reasons, walking back into the chaos and noise of the A&E waiting room, it’s not like he’s going to be seeing Jon again any time soon.